Henry James and Cinema

film adaptations of Henry James's novels and stories

Following the popularity of his novels and stories in England and America, Henry James spent almost a decade trying to reproduce that success in dramatic form. He adapted novels for the theatre (The American) and wrote a number of original plays – none of which were commercially successful. Indeed a work into which he poured all his hopes (Guy Domville) resulted in his being booed off stage on its first night. It is therefore not without a certain historical and cultural irony that his stories and novels should have become so fruitful a source of dramatic content with the coming of the cinema and television.

The examples shown here range from his earliest, lighter novels (somewhat in the tradition of Jane Austen) to the later and much darker works. All of them translate well into what are generally classed as ‘costume dramas’, and the greatest deal with issues of profound moral complexity, which are well realised by some of the cinema’s greatest actors.


The Europeans (novel 1878 – film 1979)

This is a very early novel by James which explores one of his favourite themes – the interaction of European and American cultures. In the autumn of 1850, the puritanical Mr. Wentworth receives two slightly bohemian visitors from Europe, Eugenia and Felix. One of Wentworth’s two daughters is instantly delighted by the pleasure and amusement Felix offers. A wealthy neighbour, Mr. Acton, is attracted to Eugenia, who is going through a divorce with a European aristocrat. There is a chance that the Americans are being used by the penniless Europeans – but the outcomes are evenly divided.

Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Starring – Lee Remick (Baroness Eugenia Munster), Robin Ellis (Robert Acton), Wesley Addy (Mr Wentworth), Tim Choate (Clifford Wentworth), Lisa Eichhorn (Gertrude). Filmed in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, USA.

Henry James and Cinema The Europeans – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Europeans – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Europeans – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Europeans – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Ghostly Rental (story 1876 – film 1999)

James’s original story is not much more than a folk tale with a mild ghostly element – the most notable element of which is that it features someone who impersonates a ghost. In this updating and radical transformation a mysterious, morbid professor who has suffered a number of horrid events in his life tries to help a young troubled man, whose girl friend was killed during an illegal abortion. Produced by the master of horror movies, Roger Corman.

Filmed as The Haunting of Hell House Directed by Mitch Marcus. Produced by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Marcus and Lev L. Spiro. Starring Michael York (Professor Ambrose), Andrew Bowen (James Farrow), Claudia Christian (Lucy), Aideen O’Donnell (Sarah).

Henry James and Cinema The Haunting of Hell House – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Ghostly Rental – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon US

 


Daisy Miller (novella 1878 – film 1974)

Daisy Miller is one of Henry James’s most famous stories. On the surface it’s a simple enough tale of a spirited young American girl visiting Europe. Her behaviour doesn’t sit easily with the conservative manners of the time. She pushes the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to the limit, and ultimately the consequences are tragic. Peter Bogdanovich puts lots of colour and light into his adaptation, which features Cybil Shepherd, who was his lover at the time and at the height of her fame, having just been the star of his earlier movie The Last Picture Show.

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Screenplay by Frederick Rafael. Starring – Cybil Shepherd (Daisy Miller), Harry Brown (Frederick Winterbourne), Cloris Leachman (Mrs Ezra Miller), Mildred Natwick (Mrs Costello), Eileen Brennan (Mrs Walker). Filmed in Rome and Lazio, Italy, and Vevy, Switzerland.

Henry James and Cinema Daisy Miller – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema Daisy Miller – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema Daisy Miller – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Daisy Miller – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


Washington Square (novel 1880 – film 1949)

This is a simple tragicomedy that recounts the conflict between a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, domineering father. She has a handsome young suitor – but her father disapproves, believing him to be a fortune hunter. There is a battle of wills – all conducted within the confines of their elegant town house. Who wins in the end? You will be surprised by the outcome. The plot of the novel is based upon a true story told to Henry James by the British actress Fanny Kemble.

Filmed as The Heiress (1949). Directed by William Wyler. Screenplay by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. Starring – Olivia de Haviland (Catherine Sloper), Montgomery Clift (Morris Townsend), Ralph Richardson (Doctor Austin Sloper), Miriam Hopkins (Aunt Lavinia Penniman). Aaron Copland is credited with having composed the theme music, but he denied it.

Henry James and Cinema The Heiress – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema Washington Square – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema Washington Square – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Washington Square – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Portrait of a Lady (novel 1880 – film 1996)

A young American woman is invited to live in Europe and discover her full potential. She is immediately the subject of romantic interest by three rich and eligible bachelors. But when she unexpectedly inherits a fortune she chooses a man with no money who devotes himself to aesthetic matters. Slowly she realises that he has a guilty secret and is turning her life into a nightmare. Jane Campion (The Piano) creates a visually spectacular adaptation, and John Malkovich turns in one of his masterful performances as the sadistic husband.

Directed by Jane Campion, Screenplay by Campion and Laura Jones. Starring – Nicole Kidman (Isabel Archer), John Malkovich (Gilbert Osmond), Barbara Hershey (Madame Serena Merle), Mary-Louise Parker (Henrietta Stackpole), Martin Donovan (Ralph Touchett), John Gielgud (Mr Touchett), Shelly Winters (Mrs Touchett), Richard E. Grant (Lord Warburton). Filmed in England and in Florence, Lucca and Rome, Italy.

Henry James and Cinema The Portrait of a Lady – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Portrait of a Lady – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Portrait of a Lady – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Portrait of a Lady – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Bostonians (novel 1885 – film 1984)

A Boston female rights campaigner and a conservative Southern lawyer contend for the heart and mind of a beautiful and bright girl unsure of her future. The principal subject matter of the story is ‘The Woman Question’ – that is, the conflict between traditional views of the role of women in society, and the views of suffragists and what today would be called supporters of women’s liberation. It also touches on the psychologically ambiguous issue of ‘The Boston Marriage’ – two independent women living together.

Directed by James Ivory. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Starring – Vanessa Redgrave (Olive Chancellor), Christopher Reeve (Basil Ransome), Madaleine Potter (Verena Tarrant), Jessica Tandy (Miss Birdseye), Wesley Addy (Dr Tarrant). Filmed in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA.

Henry James and Cinema The Bostonians – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Bostonians – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Bostonians – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Bostonians – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Altar of the Dead (story 1885 – film 1978)

This is an interesting experiment that compresses and updates three Henry James stories into one. The story is set in a small French town after the end of the first world war. Julien Davenne is a journalist whose wife Julie died a decade ago. He gathers a collection of her memorabilia into a green room. When a fire destroys the room, he renovates a little chapel and devotes it to Julie and other dead friends. A late work from avant-guard director Francois Truffaut (with sub-titles). It is based on – The Altar of the Dead, The Beast in the Jungle and The Way It Came.

La Chambre Verte (The Green Room) Directed by Francois Truffaut. Produced by Truffaut and Marcel Berbert. Screenplay by Truffaut and Jean Gruault. Starring – Francois Truffaut (Julien Navenne), Nathalie Baye (Cecile Mandel), Jean Daste (Bernard Humbert). Filmed in Calvados, France.

Henry James and Cinema The Green Room – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Altar of the Dead – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon US

 


The Aspern Papers (novella 1888 – film 1947)

A rich literary bachelor in pursuit of a famous poet’s love letters comes up against the elderly woman to whom they were once addressed. She still has the letters in her possession, but she also has no money and a daughter for whom she wishes to find a husband. A battle of wills ensues, set in her crumbling Venetian palace. The elderly woman dies without making a will, so the bachelor is faced with a moral dilemma – and he hesitates dangerously.

Filmed as The Lost Moment Directed by Martin Gabel. Produced by Walter Wanger. Screenplay by Leonardo Bercovici. Starring – Robert Cummings (Lewis Venable), Susan Heyward (Tina Bordereau), Agnes Moorhead (Juliana Bordereau). [Please excuse the dubbed voiceover.]

Henry James and Cinema The Aspern Papers – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Aspern Papers – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Aspern Papers – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Aspern Papers – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Pupil (story 1891 – film 1996)

A young university graduate is hired by a rich family to act as private tutor to their precocious son. He develops a close relationship with the boy, and he also realises that the parents neglect their son and don’t pay their debts. When a financial crash looms, the family try to pressure the tutor into taking the boy into his own care. The tutor hesitates, and the delay proves fatal.

This is a Polish adaptation, filmed as L’éleve. Directed by Oliver Schatzky. Screeplay by Schatzky and Eve Deboise. Starring – Vincent Cassel (Julien), Caspar Salmon (Morgan), Caroline Cellier (Emma), Jean-Pierre Marielle (Armand). Filmed in Krakow, Poland.

Henry James and Cinema L’éleve – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Pupil – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle eBook – Amazon US

 


What Masie Knew (novel 1897 – film 2012)

This adaptation transfers the events of the novel from nineteenth century London to New York in the twenty-first century. When a young couple are enmeshed in a messy divorce and custody battle, they neglect the welfare of their daughter, who comes under the protection of an old friend of the family.

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Caroll Cartwright. Starring – Julianne Moore (Susanna), Alexander Skarsgard (Lincoln), Onata Aprile (Masie), Joanna Vanderham (Marge), Steve Coogan (Beale). Filmed in New York City, USA.

Henry James and Cinema What Masie Knew – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film at the Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema What Masie Knew – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema What Masie Knew – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema What Masie Knew – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Turn of the Screw (novella 1898 – film 1961)

A young governess is employed to look after two children in a remote country house. She becomes convinced that her young charges are possessed by the ghosts of two former servants. The whole house seems charged with a malevolent and vaguely erotic menace, and the governess has nobody to turn to for help. The outcome is truly horrible.

This amazingly complex ghost story has been adapted several times for the cinema. The best version is by British director Jack Clayton and filmed as The Innocents. There is also a Spanish version filmed as Presence of Mind and a prequel directed by Michael Winner called The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando.

Directed by Jack Clayton. Screenplay by John Mortimer and Truman Capote. Starring – Deborah Kerr (The Governess), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Meg Jenkins (Mrs Grosse), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora). Filmed in East Sussex and Shepperton Studios, Surrey, UK.

Henry James and Cinema The Innocents – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Turn of the Screw – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Turn of the Screw – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Turn of the Screw – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Wings of the Dove (novel 1902 – film 1997)

An impoverished woman who has been forced to choose between a privileged life with her wealthy aunt and her journalist lover, befriends an American heiress. When she discovers the heiress is attracted to her own lover and is dying, she sees a chance to have both the privileged life she cannot give up and the lover she cannot live without.

This is a lush and beautiful film version of the novel from director Iain Softley. His London scenes are successful, but the film really comes alive visually in Venice. Even the costumes were nominated for an Academy award in this outstanding production which captures faithfully the spirit of the original novel.

Directed by Ian Softley. Screenplay by Hossein Amini. Starring – Helena Bonham Carter (Kate Croy), Linus Roache (Densher Merton), Charlotte Rampling (Aunt Maude), Michael Gambon (Mr Croy), Alison Elliott (Milly Theale). Filmed in Venice, Italy and London, UK.

Henry James and Cinema The Wings of the Dove – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Red button Details of the film – Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Wings of the Dove – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Wings of the Dove – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Wings of the Dove – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 


The Golden Bowl (book 1904 – film 2000)

The story concerns an extravagantly rich American widower and his sheltered daughter, both of whom marry, only to discover that their respective mates, a beautiful American expatriate and an impoverished Italian aristocrat, are entangled with one another in a romantic intrigue of seduction and deceit.

Merchant-Ivory pull out all the stops in their repertoire for creating lush period detail. Costumes, furniture, jewellery, and art objects all help to recreate a convincing fin de siècle atmosphere. The inclusion of original film footage from early last century adds tremendously to the period flavour.

Directed by James Ivory. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Starring – Kate Beckinsale (Maggie Verver), James Fox (Colonel Assingham), Anjelica Huston (Fanny Assingham), Nick Nolte (Adam Verver), Jeremy Northam (Prince Amerigo), Uma Thurman (Charlotte Stant). Filmed in Rome, Italy, and London and Lincolnshire, UK.

Henry James and Cinema The Golden Bowl – film adaptation on DVD – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema Details of the film at the Internet Movie Database

Henry James and Cinema The Golden Bowl – a tutorial and study guide

Henry James and Cinema The Golden Bowl – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon UK

Henry James and Cinema The Golden Bowl – Oxford Classics paperback – Amazon US

 

© Roy Johnson 2016


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